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Update: Supervisors Debate Ballot Measure to Hike TOT

MADERA — Madera County supervisors continue to consider asking voters in November to OK raising Madera County’s Transient Occupancy Tax (TOT) rate by at least 2 percent.

At their regularly scheduled board meeting last week, supervisors planned to debate hiring a pollster to gauge county residents’ appetite for an increase in the TOT rate from its current 11 percent  — which includes a 2 percent levy for the Tourism Business Improvement District (TBID) — to a total future rate of between 13 to 15 percent. But Joel Bugay, deputy county administrator who oversees finances, was ill last Tuesday so supervisors postponed their discussion to this week’s meeting so that Bugay could make the County’s presentation.

Following that presentation at the board’s “On the Road” meeting this afternoon in Chowchilla, supervisors decided to postpone a decision about the poll until more research into specific options could be conducted.

TOT revenues, which brought in $3.9 million in 2019, are collected mostly from out-of-area visitors staying at county hotels and short-term rentals like Airbnb and VRBO.

A 2 percent hike in the TOT rate would bring the county an estimated $850,000 a year in additional revenue.

District 5 Supervisor Tom Wheeler, who supports a TOT increase, pointed out at a recent town hall meeting that the additional revenues collected from a TOT hike could be used to help fund a new fire reduction district.

“Statewide, TOT tax by county is anywhere from 9 to 17 percent,” Wheeler said. “We aren’t asking for anything extravagant here.”

In November of last year, Wheeler and the other supervisors directed County staff to work with consultants to develop a poll to test the feasibility of a TOT increase.

According to a staff report provided to supervisors in advance of this week’s meeting, “the [TOT] poll will test various percentage increase scenarios and test voter attitude towards county funding priorities, county’s ability to administer its finances appropriately, and other methods of raising needed revenue to fund needed county services.”

In debating a potential 2020 ballot measure, Madera County supervisors are studying Mariposa County’s successful 2018 TOT ballot initiative, which asked voters:

“To reduce the threat of wildfires; enhance fire protection and 911 emergency response; maintain law enforcement; repair damaged roads; protect water quality, open space; retain and attract jobs and businesses; and other general services, shall Mariposa County’s existing transient occupancy tax paid only by hotel/short-term rental guests be increased by 2%, providing $3,000,000 annually until ended by voters, requiring independent audits, all funds used locally?”

Last week in Mariposa County, a new proposal to hike the county’s TOT rate again also surfaced at a board of supervisors’ meeting.

The poll Madera County supervisors are likely to eventually approve will ask questions similar in theme to the language used in the successful 2018 Mariposa County ballot measure proposal while incorporating county-specific priorities for the potential new TOT revenues. According to the staff report, these priorities are:

  • 1. Reduce the threat of wildfires
  • 2. Maintain and improve fire/sheriff services
  • 3. Improve access to health services
  • 4. Repair streets and roads
  • 5. Attract jobs and businesses

The poll, if approved, will be conducted by Los Angeles-based FM3 Research. It will include approximately 20 questions and will take around 15 to 20 minutes to complete.

Tourism-related spending currently generates between 50 to 60 percent of the county’s overall sales tax revenues, according to county statistics, while out-of-county visitors pay an estimated 95 to 98 percent of TOT revenues.


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